If you’re wondering what kind of musical instrument a dobro is, we’d better start at the beginning. Don’t feel stupid for asking this question because most people are as perplexed as you are. To most, it’s an anomaly, a brand name for many, and a generic playing style for others.
So, what exactly is it? The dobro guitar has a long history of being played by some of history’s most famous musicians. Mike Auldridge and a few others are regarded as the greatest dobro players of all time! So, as we delve into what it means to be a dobro bro, here’s a toast to the dobro standard setters!
THE RESONATOR GUITAR
A resonator guitar, such as a dobro, is a type of resonator guitar. So, what exactly is a resonator guitar? It’s those out-of-the-ordinary gits that look more like a work of art than a musical instrument, such as this Regal Metal Body Tricone Resophonic resonator guitar!
However, its appearance has a lot to do with its playing ability. A resonator guitar is similar to an acoustic guitar in shape, though the shape has little to do with sound on a resonator guitar.
It lacks the traditional acoustic soundhole and instead has a round, perforated plate cover in its place. It will have two sound holes, one on each side of the fingerboard, which will be either round circles or f-style holes.
Dobros typically have round sound holes, as seen on this Rogue Classic Style dobro guitar, but f-style holes are becoming more popular. The plate has a built-in bridge through which string vibrations are carried to be amplified by a cone or several cones, the resonators.
Resonator guitars were designed to be louder than acoustic guitars, and they produce a distinct banjo-like sound that is highly sought after by bluegrass, blues, folk, and country musicians.
WHAT IS A DOBRO GUITAR?
So, how does the dobro come into play? The terms resonator, dobro, and steel guitar are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a distinction.
Let’s get into the specifics of a dobro because it’s a type of resonator guitar. The dobro is a real guitar invented by the Dopyera Brothers, one of whom invented the resonator guitar. It has since become a brand name for this type of guitar, which is now owned by Gibson Guitar Corporation.
The Epiphone Dobro Hound Dog is a good example of a more affordable dobro guitar from Gibson. The dobro has distinct characteristics that distinguish it as a dobro.
- Design of a single inverted cone
- spider system with eight legs
- Metallic plate, round and perforated
- Bridge in the center
How does the dobro’s signature sound work? String vibrations are transmitted via the center-set bridge and reverberate through the perforations on the plate and sound holes via the eight-legged spider system that reverberates through the inverted cone design. This produces a bright, metallic tone with sonic amplified sound.
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TYPES OF DOBRO GUITARS
When it comes to dobros, the sound and design system are the same; the differences are in the shape of the neck.
1. Square Neck
Dobro guitars with square necks are typically played “lap-style.” It sits in your lap, strings up. Because the strings are so tight, fretting is rarely done. On a square neck dobro, a steel slide is typically used.
This Gretsch Boxcar is a fantastic example of a square-neck dobro. While the f-holes replace the traditional round soundholes, the cover plate and spider inverted cone remain true to the dobro design.
2. Round Neck
Round neck dobros, such as this Washburn Resonator guitar, are played in the traditional manner but can also be played lap-style. They’re frequently used in conjunction with bottleneck slides to produce that Delta blues whining.
Finger picking is also very popular among dobro players. To accommodate their music genre, many modern guitarists play outside the box with alternate tunings, action levels, and various slides.
HOW RESONATOR GUITARS CAME TO BE?
Guitars had volume issues prior to modern amplification. The metal cones in these resonant boxes were specially designed. Cones also improved the sound projection of these guitars.
These cones produced impressive amplification! The resophonic guitar eventually became the standard for guitar players of the time, particularly for guitarists in big bands. Check out my article on the history of dobros and resonator guitars for more information.
Alternative Video: Explaining Dobro Guitar
HOW RESONATOR GUITAR CONES WORK?
The number and size of the cones, as well as the materials used to make them, all amplify the sound of the resonator guitar in the same way. The vibrations of a standard acoustic guitar’s strings are transmitted via the bridge to the guitar’s top wood, which amplifies their sound.
A resonator guitar works on a similar principle, but includes one or more cones to amplify the sound level by transferring the vibration of the strings through the cone’s perforations and/or other sound holes in the guitar top. The cone is responsible for the bright, metallic timbre.
Metal vs. Wood Bodies
The various woods used in traditional acoustic guitar tops and bodies have a huge influence on their sound, as we discuss in our Acoustic Guitar Buying Guide. When it comes to resonator guitars, the main distinction is between those with metal bodies and those with wood bodies.
1. Metal-bodied resonator guitars
The majority of metal-bodied resonators have nickel-plated steel or brass bodies. Steel is thought to produce the rawer sound associated with rural blues guitarists like Son House and Bukka White. Brass has a slightly rounder, more mellow tone.
Metal resonator guitars from the past were frequently ornately decorated with engraved or etched designs. To keep costs down, today’s budget metal guitars frequently feature pressed metal embellishments.
2. Wooden-bodied resonator guitars
As previously stated, the specific woods used in resonator guitars have less of an impact than in acoustic guitars. Most are made with laminated woods, which are less expensive than the solid tonewoods used in quality acoustic guitars.
Having said that, the wooden body produces a warmer sound with less attack and punch than a steel-bodied guitar. When players talk about a Dobro, they almost always mean a resonator guitar with a wood body.
Different Necks and Cones for Different Genres
Both rounded and square neck profiles are used in the construction of resonator guitars. Square neck resonators are designed to be played with a metal slide, also known as a steel, and have a very high action—sometimes as much as a half-inch above the frets—which makes standard fretting with the fingers impossible.
Country and bluegrass musicians typically use open tunings and play the guitar in the “lap steel” position, with the fretboard facing up.
Blues and roots music guitarists prefer to play resonator guitars with rounded neck profiles in the traditional guitar position, with the fretboard facing away from the player. They can be set up with a variety of string heights that allow for finger fretting or a bottleneck slide that produces the whining tone associated with Delta blues, depending on the player’s preference.
Here’s a rundown of the various neck/cone configurations and how they relate to various music genres:
- Spider cone guitars with square necks are commonly used in country and bluegrass music.
- Tricone guitars with square necks are commonly used for Hawaiian music and some blues.
- Round neck tricone guitars: used by some jazz and blues musicians, particularly for bottleneck slide.
- Round neck biscuit resonators are commonly used in blues, slide, and traditional playing.
Entry-level resonator guitars
Vintage National steel guitars and Dobros in good condition can fetch exorbitant prices these days. However, for guitarists looking to expand their sound options, there is a healthy selection of inexpensive starter models that won’t break the bank.
The Rogue Classic Spider Resonator Roundneck is a low-cost way to add a resonator to your toolbox. A squareneck version is also available, as well as a striking black or sunburst finish.
The 10-12″ spun aluminum cone and die-cast spider bridge, combined with a spruce top, mahogany body, and rosewood fretboard, produce good tone with plenty of projection. Chrome plating on the cone and a fully bound body give it a look that belies its low cost.
Mid-line resonator guitars
These resonator guitars are typically made with higher quality woods and metals, as well as higher grade tuners and other appointments. The Dobro Hound Dog Acoustic Deluxe Round Neck Dobro Guitar produces sound that is true to its sonic roots by combining modern and traditional design techniques.
It is made of a laminate made of thin maple veneers with attractive figuring and houses a modern version of the original Dopyera brothers inverted cone resonator and spider bridge. However, your grandfather’s Dobro lacked the Fishman resonator pickup for easily amplifying your jams.
Step-up resonator guitar models
These instruments have a more refined construction, improved playability, and are made with higher-quality materials and fittings. The Beard Guitars Lotus Acoustic-Electric Resonator Guitar with a square neck is a premium “Made in USA” instrument.
The Lotus sounds and feels as good as it looks, thanks to a Finnish birch veneer body that has been radiused and a handspun Beard Legend Cone.
RESONATOR GUITAR ACCESSORIES
Now that you’ve found the ideal resonator guitar, it’s time to customize it with the right accessories.
1. Resonator Guitar Strings
Both instruments have the standard string spacing of a guitar. Phosphor bronze alloy is frequently used to make resonator strings. This maximizes the physical characteristics of these instruments.
The strings on a resonator guitar are typically thicker, especially on the treble side. Typically, the gauges are.016-.056 or.017-.056. Regular acoustic guitar strings may also be used. You would not, however, achieve the desired tone with them.
2. Resonator Guitar Cases
Your resonator is a delicate and complex instrument. It should be safeguarded accordingly. Aside from Musician’s Friend’s resonator guitar-specific cases, many standard hardshell guitar cases and gig bags will work well with your resonator guitar or Dobro.
If you’re unsure about fit, contact a Gear Head at 877-880-5907 for assistance in locating a suitable model.
DOBRO VS STEEL GUITAR
What’s the deal with steel now that you know what a resonator guitar is and how a dobro fits in? When people talk about steel guitars, they are referring to two different types of guitars. The first is a playing style that uses a steel bar for glissando, portamento, and slide techniques with a steel slide.
Steel guitarists employ steel slides with a high action tension. The second is a steel resonator guitar, which is made of steel. The Gretsch Honey Dipper Metal resonator guitar is a prime example of this.
A steel guitar or a guitar used with a steel bar isn’t a dobro unless it has the aforementioned dobro characteristics. The Honey Dipper Metal guitar mentioned above may appear to be a dobro, but it is actually a resonator guitar with a biscuit style cone design – not a dobro, just another resonator guitar.
So, can a steel guitar be classified as a dobro guitar? Yes, if the guitar has the dobro inverted cone with spider legs and is played steel style with a steel bar like this one or even this Dunlop Lap Dawg one.
DOBRO VS RESONATOR GUITARS: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
So, what are the distinctions between a dobro and a resonator guitar? This is a common question. However, the question is somewhat illogical. A “dobro” guitar is a type of resonator guitar.
When you hear the term “dobro,” you’re referring to acoustic guitars with a single resonator and a wooden body. These cones can be “spider” or “biscuit” (reversed). There’s another way to look at it. Although a dobro is a type of resonator guitar, not all resonator guitars are dobros.
Other resonator guitars may have a larger number of cones and a metal body. As a result, when musicians distinguish between a dobro and a resonator guitar. They’re actually contrasting two types of resonator guitars.
Nowadays, wooden-bodied resonators are only available with one cone. As a result, the term “dobro” refers to a wooden-bodied resonator guitar. So making this distinction isn’t all that difficult. In practice, there are two categories. These are metal-bodied resonator guitars and dobros.
DOBRO VS. METAL-BODIED RESONATOR: SOUND COMPARISON
There is a noticeable tone difference between dobros and metal-bodied resonator guitars. Metal-bodied ones, for example, have a slightly darker tone. They do, however, have a razor-sharp attack. They even sound like electric guitars at times.
You can also see their sustain in this video. This is ideal for those who enjoy playing slides. We can hear how dobros sound more like a regular guitar in the video below. The wooden body construction is advantageous.
The cost of a dobro and a metal-bodied guitar is roughly the same. Their prices are typically comparable to those of medium-quality guitars. Of course, there are more expensive versions on the market. It all comes down to what you’re looking for.
2. Learning Materials
Because both instruments have a lot in common with the guitar, you can use the same fingering, picking, and strumming techniques.
3. Round vs. Square Necks
Now, whether the neck is round or square is an important distinction. But, to summarize, round-neck resonator guitars have regular necks, just like acoustic guitars! Squared-necked ones, on the other hand, are a completely different story.
Squared-neck guitars have, you guessed it, square necks. You can’t play them normally. It’s because their action is significantly higher than that of other guitars. They’re similar to lap steel guitars in that you hold them horizontally in your lap and use a slide or a “tone bar.”
On squared necks, you can press the strings against the frets. But you wouldn’t get a decent tone from them. What’s really cool is that you can use the same technique to play round-neck resonators.
That’s the allure of wooden-body dobros and metal-body resonator guitars. Regular and lap steel playing approaches are both permitted. And you can pick and choose what works best for you.
Finally, all resonator guitar models are excellent choices for bluegrass, blues, and folk players. You should experiment with both the dobro and other resonators to see which one best suits your needs!
But, in the end, it all comes down to tone, feel, and your personal preferences for both. That’s the only thing there is to it. Please leave a comment if you have any further questions about dobros or other resonator guitars!
FAQs About Dobro Resonator Guitar
Is there a difference between a resonator guitar and a Dobro?
Although a dobro is a type of resonator guitar, not all resonator guitars are dobros. Other resonator guitars may have a larger number of cones and a metal body. As a result, when musicians distinguish between a dobro and a resonator guitar. They’re actually contrasting two types of resonator guitars.
Is a resonator and a Dobro the same thing?
Though the terms resonator guitar, steel guitar, and Dobro are used interchangeably, the name “Dobro” is a trademark owned by Gibson Guitar and has roots that, as we’ll see, date back to the instrument’s inception.
What is Dobro tuning?
The Dobro or Reso is commonly tuned to GBDGBD and the Open G chord, but there are numerous other tunings available. Because resophonic guitars are fretless, it is possible to vastly improve interval tuning by using pure or “half tempered” tuning instead of Equal Tempered tuning.
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